Cutting edge

Tim Kuenning making chainsaw art
New Bremen-area sculptor Tim Kuenning produces art with a roar and a cloud of dust.

Tim Kuenning looks at a bark-covered log and envisions a design — a majestic eagle, a plump jack-o’-lantern, a bowlegged cowboy with saddle in hand, a hungry seagull perched on a dock waiting for lunch to swim by. Soon, his vision materializes amid a shower of sawdust.

The New Bremen-area woodcarving specialist — he prefers that title over “chainsaw artist” — has spent more than four decades honing his art. From a whimsical pumpkin to a 51/2-foot eagle permanently on display at the Pentagon, his sculptures reveal his singular ability to carve away extraneous material and bring forth natural beauty using only a chainsaw and a blowtorch.

“I carve things in all shapes and sizes,” he says. “However, people are happiest when I do eagles.”

Kuenning, a member of St. Marys-based Midwest Electric, remembers watching a chainsaw artist — a Stihl factory representative — demonstrate how to make rustic chairs and larger-than-life mushrooms with well-placed swipes of the blade.

“I told my wife I could do better than that, and I went to work proving it,” he says. “There has been a lot of practice during the ensuing years — it’s something you have to learn on your own, because no one offers classes on the subject.”

The retired village of Minster electric department lineman has traveled across the country putting on chainsaw demonstrations for the chainsaw manufacturer, Poulan. He has also performed product testing for the company.

A commanding general from the National Guard Readiness Center approached Kuenning at a national bass tournament, admiring the eagle he was carving as the winner’s trophy.

The man wanted to commission a much larger eagle for display at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.

They reached an agreement rather quickly, but finding the right log turned out to be a much longer process. Kuenning, who sees no need to cut a healthy tree, ultimately found a 200-year-old white oak log measuring 8 feet tall and 5 feet in diameter that had been felled after showing signs of dying. The owner, who lived in the St. Marys area, donated the wood after learning of its intended purpose.

“The first cuts are the most crucial because you run the risk of taking away too much,” Kuenning says. “The carving only involved a couple of days, but the finishing work took considerably longer.” A military helicopter ferried the eagle to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, where it was loaded into a military transport plane for the trip to its permanent home.

Kuenning visits area festivals and county fairs to demonstrate his carving. He sells finished products, ranging from Block O’s to portly piglets, to the highest bidders, with the proceeds benefitting charity. His two sons and several grandchildren also enjoy making chainsaw sculptures and frequently assist with the demonstrations.

“We always draw crowds,” he says, “but I couldn’t tell you whether there are five people or 500 people. All my concentration has to be focused on the tip of the saw, or there could be problems.”

Of course, he does make mistakes from time to time, but nothing goes to waste.

Those mistakes, he says, go into the family’s “work-burning” stove.